Simplifying Solar Energy

As solar energy becomes a more mainstream source of power for homes and the electric grid, many efforts are underway to further simplify the installation process.

On the West Coast, solar is becoming mandatory in new construction, while on the East Coast a new start-up is attempting to make solar energy a simple DIY project. All across the country, groups are banding together to pool their resources and lower costs.

California made news this spring with a mandate that all newly constructed homes be “solar ready.” Starting in 2020, homebuilders for all properties under three stories will be required to install solar panels.

The solar PV systems that homebuilders install must be sized to supply the annual use of electricity for the entire dwelling. According to an analysis by Energy and Environmental Economics (E3), a projected 74,154 homes will have to meet the new standards in 2020.

While costs vary depending on the amount of sunlight that hits different parts of the state, the addition of solar is determined to be cost effective statewide. E3 calculated a range in cost from $8,000 to $18,000 over the lifetime of each mortgage.

Meanwhile, a German nonprofit with an office in Boston, Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, wants homeowners to be able to install “plug and play” solar.

The startup is developing a solar panel kit that could generate electricity the next day after installation. This approach would, however, still require the assistance of an electrician who can interconnect with the utility grid, as well as a homeowner who is very comfortable working atop their roof.

Across the country, many other advances are underway.

Groups of property owners are organizing solar co-ops to bring down the cost of installing solar on each of their properties.

A growing number of groups are installing centralized “community solar” projects that create shared electricity savings for all who pay into the project.

And cities are offering discounts on solar installation to help homeowners overcome the upfront expense of transitioning to solar.

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